Thursday, March 17, 2016

Trump is No Andrew Jackson

Trump needs less press, not more, so this will be brief. 
Recently, I've heard some folks that want to do the comparison between Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson.

Over at Sic Semper Tyrannis: Is it 1828 again? and Jackson Part Two By Richard Sale
And also at Fabius Maximus: What the press won’t tell you about Trump and populism
Also the NYTimes: Donald Trump's Secret? Channeling Andrew Jackson

The similarities between these men is so superficial that I find the comparison more illuminating of those making the comparison than of Donald Trump.

Just consider this 'similarity' from the NY Times Article
In an 1806 duel, he shot and killed a man who had insulted him in a newspaper. Mr. Trump’s Twitter broadsides at his critics are gentle by comparison.
Really? 'Twitter broadsides' vs shooting a critic? 
Here's what I learned of their similarities from these articles. First, they focus very much around the 'nationalist' / 'populist' nature of Andrew Jackson and Donal Trump.  They are 'vulgar' and 'of the people' and are opposing sclerotic party apparatchiks.  They appeal to southern whites in Appalachia more than elsewhere and promise to support the common man and protect them from harmful elites.  They are all of a single 'style' nature.

Now let's explore just one of the incredibly important and massive differences between the two.

Andrew Jackson, before he ran for President, was a war hero and a general who fought several important battles and secured a huge amount of territory for white settlement in the American South. He came from abject poverty, built a fortune on the edge of civilization, was a huge part of erecting government services and spent many years in public service.  Jacksonville, FL and Jackson, MS are cities that bear his name because of his importance to those states. Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida owe him a huge debt.  Native American tribes rightfully see him as an archenemy.  The slave economy would not have been possible without him and his acolytes getting things done.
Donald Trump is a relatively successful real estate developer, he is a successful reality TV star, he's a serial entrepreneur and an occasional political schemer.  He was born rich and stayed rich.  He's done pretty much zilch for anyone else.  Donald Trump is an entertainer who is playing a political rabble-rouser.

The profound difference between the two is that one did shit and the other just talks shit.  Talking up Trump as a Jacksonian only obscures the fact that our political system and American society in general is in serious crisis. 
His success doesn't require outlandish political and historical analogies to explain his victories.  The horrendous mess that our politics are explains it just fine.  Donald Trump is major news and a serious contender because he is competing against political midgets.  Every single Republican candidate would have been chased off in our past political ages early and often.  And the Democrats have a very similar problem. 

The other things to consider is that for all the racism and prejudices in our older society, it was a nation that was hacking out civilization on the frontier.  Venturing west of Appalachia in the 1800s was the undertaking of bold and foolhardy people.  To what degree does that boldness continue in the creation of apps and the consumption of luxury goods?  Does our society still have the material from which to produce great politicians for the people?

Trump/Jackson comparisons bury the lead in all cases.  The desire for a Jackson is greater than the capacity of any current candidate to produce.


  1. No real argument against your Trump-isn't-Jackson point, PF. Other than the fairly obvious one that Jackson, regardless of his merits, was pretty loathsome (less so that Trump simply because he was typical of his time instead of a throwback to it) as an example of the sort of things that made his time something less than "bold" if you weren't a white boy. Greedy? Sure. Rapacious? I'll buy that. Pitiless? Yep. Fiercely violent towards the "outsiders"? Un-hunh.

    Let's look at some of his other issues. Civil rights? Yike. Genocide? He's you're go-to guy there. The "spoils system" of federal patronage jobs? Pretty much invented it. White supremacy (i.e. predictably horrible on slavery?) Bingo.

    I'll give you universal white male suffrage (i.e. the end of the property/wealth requirement) as an unalloyed good, tho I'd argue that Martin Van Buren and other Democratic Party founders had at least as much to do with it as Jackson.

    Don't get me wrong; "great" civilizations have been built on rapacious, pitiless greed ("great" in the sense of "great for the people on the inside". If you were Mexican or one of the native tribes (or black, or female, or anyone on his political enemies list)? No so much.

    So you can put me down as someone who appreciates Jackson's role in the creation of the United States but is VERY pleased that "our society no longer has his sort of material to produce "great" politicians for the people." Because Jackson - for all that the Jackson of his times was a man OF his times - represents the exact sort of thing that Trump is trying to reproduce today.

    I won't say "I'm sorry" that Jackson existed or he was who he was. But I also won't pretend to celebrate who he was. He was emblematic of a time that is happily largely over and done with, and bad cess to it. The point of opposing Trump is that it would not benefit We the People to return to Jacksonian values, regardless of whether Mister Trump has "earned" the right to espouse many of those values.

  2. And I should note that he REAL antecedent of Il Douche isn't really Jackson, but George Wallace, who railed against the federal government, blacks, hippies, and everyone-who-doesn't-look-like-us-white-boys.

  3. Replies
    1. No argument. But...when you look at the GOP field, you have a hard time finding anything "better". Even the demi-sane people like Kasich still adhere to the loony stuff like flat taxes and balanced budget amendments and endless war with Muslims.

  4. Certainly Trump and Jackson are different, but I think the comparison works looking at the broader circumstances. It's certainly a lot better analogy that the stupid Hitler comparisons floating around.

    1. I think the problem is that Jackson was very much a man of his time, and the populism he represented and was the standard-bearer for was also very much "of its' time". Trump, OTOH, appears to be trying to revive that kind of Know-Nothing populism...which is, at this point, very much NOT of its' time.

      As I said; Wallace is by far the better analogy if you're looking for historical parallels. Or Mussolini. I think the Hitler trope is just laziness, and note that few people who really bother to look hard at Il Douche use it.

  5. Mussolini isn't any different than Hitler for the analogy, just slightly less racism.

    Know-nothing populism may or may not be of this time, we're about to find out.


  6. I don't think there's a great need to point out Trump's sinfulness. He's clearly exploiting baser aspects in his base. This isn't new. But he is ALL flash.
    When people look to Jackson's example, they are looking at how he took power from the hands of an elite group and distributed it to a political party that would persist and empower a far broader base of people. That's a good thing to see and desire in our particular age. Our political system has gotten very unresponsive. But it's important who we trust to build something like a more responsive system. As much of an outsider as Jackson was to the power's in charge, he was someone who was able to build something durable. He had proved that many times. We can absolutely question the value of what he built given how it excluded and oppressed others, but he was a guy who could not only say "I'll do it!" but actually finish the job. Why should anyone expect Trump can accomplish anything other than media value?
    Just because his style is brash and abrasive and therefore different than the more establishment and elite characters should not distract from the fact that Trump is only in a position to run for office because of his entertainment chops.
    Would he be able to run for office without The Apprentice?
    This is a huge vulnerability in our political system. There should be warning bells going off across the country that what we've all been doing has not worked.

    1. Trump is the rational product of an electoral system that has been treated - by the participants, by the media, by the public - as a sort of entertainment product for certainly thirty and possibly as long as fifty years. When politics becomes a sideshow, when it is reported like a circus then you whould be absolutely unsurprised when a conman and carny emerges to dominate the process.

      I'm not sure that this has anything to do with "taking power from the hands of an elite group". Certainly the US politics of the original Gilded Age was more corrupt and more exclusive than anything we're seeing today and the response was nothing like the carnival we're seeing here. The Progressives were in no sense like the Trumpeters, who are, in turn, the logical metastsizing of the "Tea Party" which is itself the logical product of convincing your "base" the you can believe what you want because you have your own facts.

      Andy: I think the Mussolini is a better analogy (tho Wallace is even better, as I pointed out) because Hitler had a very well-defined program as far back as the late Twenties and Germany in the Twenties and Thirties was very different from Italy in the Twenties (or the US of today, for that matter). Il Duce was very Trumpy in that he emerged in a nation that, while it had issues, was nothing like post-WW1/Weimar/Depression Germany...and his rhetoric was more Trumpesque - long on bloviating and chest-beating, short on specifics - than Hitlerian. Mussolini was also more "muscular" than Hitler and more like Trump; Hitler was seen (in the Twenties and Thirties, anyway) as more of a conventional politician; Il Duce more as an individualistic strongman "outside" the "old politics" in much the same way Trump is.

      But, again; Wallace. HE's the Ur-Trump. When you look at the campaign Trump is running it's damn near step-for-step Wallace's themes. Well, with more obvious lying. But the circus-carny electoral coverage that has arisen since the Sixties and early Seventies has made political lying much less fraught.

    2. "I'm not sure that this has anything to do with "taking power from the hands of an elite group"."

      Chief, this is precisely the reason that I wrote this post. Trump has nothing to do with this particular desire but there is a very sincere desire to place this upon him. This comes from a good place, I believe. There are serious power and economic imbalances in this country that the current elite are working quite hard to maintain and some people want that to change.

      They're wrong about Trump being that guy. Even if he wanted to be that guy, which is unclear to me, he's unprepared to be that guy and that should be a strong warning to those who are 'hoping' for 'change' and all that.

  7. PF Khans, thanks for taking the time to post regarding the tortured comparison of Trump to Jackson. I, like you, find little if anything similar in the two men. Jackson was, in fact, a self-made man. He wrested his education and his living from difficult circumstances. His courage cannot be doubted whether it was in physical action or in a fight to have his way politically. I am not a Jackson scholar but I am not aware of any misogyny that can be attributed to Jackson. I am persuaded that he did whatever he could to further the interests of his nation and I do believe he "took power from the hands of an elite group and distributed it ..." as much as he was able. He was the object of resentment and contempt because he did not spring from an affluent and elite class and is still painted as a coarse and vulgar person. However, a little more searching yields plenty of descriptions of his erudition, intellect, and wit but that doesn't play as well as depicting him as a backwoods ruffian. As far as his sins go, we are talking about a soldier and a politician - not Jesus Christ. For my money, he earned all respect by facing down John C. Calhoun and I only wish Jackson had been able to hang him or shoot him, whichever was more convenient.

    Trump's life appears to demonstrate a man who is very good at publicity and accomplished at both the short and long con. If a man's actions over his lifetime are no indication of his character and no predictor of his probable actions then I need to be informed of the alternative.


    1. Jill,

      "If a man's actions over his lifetime are no indication of his character and no predictor of his probable actions then I need to be informed of the alternative."
      This is highly relevant. I fear that we've substituted that wisdom for the 'wisdom of the crowds' and a belief that our technology has made us somehow omniscient enough that we can't actually be conned.

    2. I think you're giving both We the People and particularly our popular press too much credit, PF. I think that, to a certain extent, the Trumpeters know that he's conning them - at least, the marginally intelligent ones do. I mean, build Hadrian's Wall along the Rio Grande AND "get Mexico to pay for it"? Who the hell thinks that'll ever really be a thing?'s what they WANT to hear.

      There's an old saying that every mark is looking for a con. The Trumpeters want to believe that he's going to do all this ridiculous shit, so they don't want to hear the cold reality. It's not that they think they can't be conned. It's that they want Trump's con, so they're happy to ignore any evidence that suggests that it IS a con.

      And the press? Even worse. I think that most of them KNOW perfectly well they're being used to help run this con. In fact, they know damn well that their fellating the Donald is toxic for the nation. Les Moonves, head of CBS, said straight out: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS...(t)he money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

      So they don't care about the con. They're reporting on the medicine show because it makes them money and they could give a shit about who it poisons...

    3. Jill:

      I understand the nostalgia for Jackson as the "little man's President", but his legacy is less savory than that, really. To put it in terms we can more clearly understand; Jackson was the intellectual and political the father of the modern Republican Party. Jon Chait sums him up perfectly:

      "His bloodthirsty aggression towards the native tribes had a huge impact on the genocidal history of the US (as compared to, say, Canada, which was hardly a kumbaya-singing hippie ashram...) and heavily overlapped with the slowly deepening divide over slavery. It;s worth noting that in the House, four fifths of slave-state representatives voted for the Indian Removal Act, while only a third of representatives from free states did.

      Jackson was a populist, but he directed his populism not at the local elites (of which he was one) but at the federal government. He favored the gold standard, and his opposition to a National Bank served the interests of the local banks that competed against it. He believed the Constitution prevented the government from taking an active role in managing economic affairs. He was a Teatard, basically, only hatin' in Injuns rather than Mexicans...

      He was instinctively aggressive, poorly educated, anti-intellectual, and suspicious of bureaucrats. (Jackson replaced more qualified federal staffers with partisan hacks.) He resisted any challenge to racial hierarchies. The opposition to Jackson stood for the reverse — a more interventionist federal government, more lenient treatment of racial minorities, a less aggressive foreign policy.

      Modern Republicans have revived what they call “Constitutional conservatism,” which reprises the Jacksonian belief that the Constitution prevents economic intervention by the government. Tea-party activists in particular have sounded deeply Jacksonian themes in their populist attacks on TARP, and then Obama’s programs, as giveaways to powerful insiders. As a writer for the right-wing Breitbart News argued several months ago, “Jackson’s views on federalism and economics should be more carefully studied today.”"

      These aren't "revisionist" views of Jackson; they were largely the views of his times. Jackson was also the progenitor of some of the REALLY awful Presidents that followed him, especially Buchanan, who was something of a JAckson-groupie. That, alone, would be a good reason for slapping him upside the head.

      Nope. Jackson was who he was. He had a huge impact on his times and has to be considered an important figure in American history. many ways his influence on that history was only marginally better than Calhoun's. If Calhoun was treason in defense of slavery Jackson was federal impotence and indifference in response to the defense of slavery, and he should be correctly reviled as such.

  8. Jill hit the nail right om the head, "Trump's life appears to demonstrate a man who is very good at publicity and accomplished at both the short and long con."

    I doubt he really has any coherent ideological vision, but is just a con man thug, an approach that has worked well for him.